Arnhem Land – the stunning stone country

Arnhem Land

Arnhem Land – my first visit

Finally we reached Kakadu National Park and we still have the Internet. What a pleasant surprise!

Jabiru

First stop – Jabiru, the center point of Kakadu National Park. Jabiru is a small, but very civilised town. There is a grocery shop and bank. Mobile phones work fine and, as I mentioned before, the Internet works as well.

Mamukala Wetlands
Mamukala Wetlands

Mamukala Wetlands Walk

Today, after setting up the campsite, a quick swim in the pool and lunch, we went on the trail. We went for a Mamukala Wetlands walk that is located 33 km west of Jabiru. 

The walk itself is a 3 km trail ending with a wetland observation point to a billabong. The platform at the end of the walk is prepared with narrow, long, open windows to observe birds quietly. 

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The trail was interesting and very quiet, probably no one went there for quite a while because we saw about 10 kangaroos and wallabies along the way. It was just before the sunset so the animals started showing up for the evening meal.

Mamukala Wetlands
Mamukala Wetlands

Nell was not too eager to walk this time and Marius had to carry her almost all the way. 

The next day, I’m going to Arnhem Land and I am very excited. 

Arnhem Land is the Aboriginal land on the east side of Kakadu National Park and it covers 97000 sq kilometres of bushland. I am already looking forward to a great adventure. We will have an Aboriginal guide who will lead us around and show us Aboriginal art and culture.

Arnhem Land – unforgettable experience

I had to get up very early in the morning to be ready for the trip to Arnhem Land with an organised group. We decided not to go in our own car because we would have to organise separate permits and also an Aboriginal guide. 

Arnhem Land starts about 40 km north of Kakadu National Park. To get to Arnhem Land cars must cross the East Alligator River through Cahills Crossing. What is so special about that?

Cahills Crossing

Well, except that Cahills Crossing is one of the world’s deadliest water crossings then nothing, nothing at all. It is a flooded causeway and it is notorious for vehicles to be washed off the road.

However, that is not a real danger (hard to believe, I know).  What makes it really bad are saltwater crocodiles that surround the road. They sit there on the water’s edge or swim around to feed on fish or simply wait for ‘any opportunity’.

Arnhem Land - Cahills Crossing
Cahills Crossing​

To make it even more difficult, East Alligator River is tidal and the crossing should be done only on low tide, otherwise, it is a dangerous game. Together with my group, we were scheduled to be there on a low tide to make sure we can cross the river safely.

Aboriginal Settlement and Open Gallery

We visited an Aboriginal settlement and then went to one of many open-air galleries. I have never seen so many Aboriginal drawings as on that one mountain! 

Our guide Tomo told us that there are thousands of such galleries, but we (white people, and especially women) are not allowed to see them.

Arnhem Land
Arnhem Land

The rock paintings are very old as some of them are even 20,000 years old. The last touch-ups on them were done 6,000 years ago and since then people have not made any changes. 

Due to the fact, only natural ingredients were used to create paint, like ocher, coal, mica and animal blood, the colours are limited to brown, red, orange, white and black.

Arnhem Land - Open Gallery
Arnhem Land – Open Gallery

The topics of these paintings are usually animals and hunting. But not always, we were also told tales about good behaviour being praised and bad punished. Also very often these paintings are about good and bad gods.

Original burial site

We were walking around and listening to Tomo’s stories from the past, and finally, we arrived at the burial site. It was a cave that worked many centuries ago as a home for Aboriginal people. An entire family of around 25 people lived there.

Arnhem Land
Arnhem Land

One of them was a man from the elders who said he did not want to be buried in the ground but wanted to stay where he lived and asked to be placed behind a large stone. 

He is still there today, or rather only his bones lying on the eucalyptus bark.

Arnhem Land - view on wetlands
Arnhem Land – view on wetlands

Lunch with magnificent view

After that, we had lunch almost at the top of the mountain with an exceptional view of the valley and the wetlands. 

How they carried all this food here remains a mystery to me. The ceiling where we sat was full of painted barramundi, kangaroos, and even a Tasmanian tiger that once inhabited these areas.

Arnhem Land - Aboriginal Paintings
Arnhem Land – Aboriginal Paintings

Oenpelli – Injalak Art Centre

Shortly after lunch, we visited Injalak Art Centre in Oenpelli, where Aboriginal men artists paint and women weave baskets. I really liked one of the paintings which was an illustration of a crocodile hunt, so I bought it. 

The artist who created the painting is famous and his paintings are in the Melbourne museum and reach very high prices. Because the gallery is in a remote place, and I bought directly from the artist, the price was very good.

Arnhem Land - Oenpelli Art Gallery
Arnhem Land – Oenpelli Art Gallery

In Oenpelli, we spent only one hour as we had to go back because we had to be at Cahills Crossing on the low tide again to make it back safely to Jabiru. 

There were no issues on the crossing and I successfully returned from my first trip to Arnhem Land. It was one of the best days of my trip so far.

Arnhem Land
Arnhem Land

After I returned from Arnhem Land, we went to dinner and Marius ordered a kangaroo steak. It was a very good decision, the meat was tender and juicy.

Eating Kangaroo Steak
Eating Kangaroo Steak – Well…

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

Is it safe to drive to Arnhem Land with one car?

Arnhem Land land is huge and most of the beautiful National Parks are located far from civilization. To get there and around there are numerous water crossings. Sometimes you can blow event two tires at the same time and if that happens you would have to wait for a very long to get some help. Thus, the answer is simple. Prepare your car the best you can with at least two spare tires and if possible take a mate with you. This way if something happens you have a way to get help.

How far is Arnhem Land from Darwin?

The shortest way to get to Arnhem Land is via Cahills Crossing. It is 290 km and 3 hours drive from Darwin.

What to do in Arnhem Land?

Arnhem Land is a vast stone country with beautiful national parks located along the shoreline. Arnhem Land enthusiasts visit it to drive unexplored, see the national parks, go fishing and four-wheel driving. Also, Arnhem Land offers spectacular Aboriginal art that can be purchased in town from art galleries.


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4WD Equipment Checklist

GPS Navigator or compass

Maxtrax – if you get bogged, you can use it for additional traction

Tire Deflator – deflate tires quickly when going on dirt or 4WD

Air Compressor – inflate tires quickly after going back on bitumen (we use MM)

Tire Repair Kit – to fix the tire by yourself when you don’t have access to the tire shop (we use Oztrail)

UHF Radio – for communication with your mates and in emergency

Full Recovery Kit (with Dampener Blanket) – must-have if you are going on real off-road

High Lift Jack – useful if you do serious 4WD tracks

Shovel – useful if you get bogged, also good for campfire cooking

Fuel funnel with water filter – additional protection when fueling up in dodgy places

Additional fuel canisters


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